The long term fiscal, political and developmental stability of stronger African nations in modern times is directly threatened by “failed states” largely due to a number of factors such as ineffective and weak opposition parties and conflict proliferation coupled with monumental humanitarian crises.
Consequently the problems posed by the failed African states continue to pose a stark distraction to moving the continent forward in the global effort of nations’ empowerment.
The focus on failed African states is germane to this discussion due to the fact that the continent maintains the dubious and notorious distinction of having some of the worst humanitarian and civil conflicts repeatedly and must rely in international donor assistance and peacekeeping to exist.
Today, the International Crisis Group, (ICG) reports that conflict situations or very weak nations span from Burundi in East Africa to Sierra Leone in West Africa and recommends close monitoring, judicial and security reforms in some of these countries to vigorous enforcement of international fiscal oversight of government accounting in one instance.
French President Mr. Jacques Chirac has expressed his own concern of the issue of failed states when he states, “World leaders once worried about who was amassing power; now they worry about the absence of it.”
Failed states have shown overtime that they can effectively and markedly threaten their neighbors, regional, continental and global stability. For example, the Mano River basin In West Africa made up of the countries of Liberia, Guinea and Ivory Coast remains a fragile region which has exported its brand of rebel incursions, gruesome genocidal tendencies and hundreds of thousands of refugees due to the initial implosion and destruction of the Liberian state.
Rebels from the Mano River basin are now being recruited to provide the “muscle” for all sides in the ongoing situation of the “No Peace, No War” in another West African hotspot - Cote d’Ivoire. This country risk immediate collapse without the continued presence of United Nations peacekeeping personnel.
This sub region remains an attractive magnet for black market gun-running, international drug trafficking, export and exchange of “Blood Diamonds’ for arms and a haven for international terrorists seeking a base for launching attacks against Western interests and their allies.
For example, the former Liberian President Charles Taylor’s regime is reported to have harbored and facilitated the movement of Al Qaeda operatives in Monrovia in addition to doing “Diamond trade” with them. Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for some of the worst terror attacks against the United States and its allies in recent years and continue to pose a threat.
It is generally agreed that democracy presents the best alternative to dictatorship and non-representative government which breed the use or illegal and unconstitutional accession to state power. And so then the primary question for the pursuance of democracy in most African states is what is the basis of the state and the reason to be?
The answer to this question is bound to produce a fair amount of dissension. Logically, this dissension and its supporters, the minority, must have a genuine way to channel their grievances and seek redress in an organized fashion - thus - opposition political parties in a democracy.
However, just being the opposition party in name or during election year is not a panacea for the effective practice for democracy. Failed or ineffective opposition parties across Africa, over the years have, in a way, contributed to the alienation of a large group of the national population for which the parties were organized in the first place. Not all their troubles are self-induced. Some stem from election laws or government policies that weigh heavily against them.
Some African leaders have taken advantage of this vacuum of an “opposition political party on paper only” and metamorphosed into “monsters” and record breaking human rights violators. Incumbent leaders will apportion and utilize unlimited power as they can get away with without any check and or balance. In the Central African Republic, former President Jean Bedell Bokasa became Emperor Bokasa amidst unconfirmed reports of cannibalism.
Poor in resources and unable to rejuvenate themselves, most African opposition political parties appear set to continue to play a minor role for a long time.
The fractious opposition in Zimbabwe has unwittingly allowed President Robert Mugabe to mislead his nation into economic depravity and hunger. All of the ingredients for a violent uprising and regional instability such as - a disaffected military, marginalized population, human rights abuses, and gradual collapse of social and political institutions - may be present in this southern African country which was once the bread basket of that region.
In Guinea, current President Lansana Conte seized power military coup 1984 and managed transfer to civilian government 1993 based on 1990 constitution. President Conte strengthened power through harassment of opposition, students and press. Constitutional amendment approved November 2001 extended presidential term from five to seven years. December 2003 presidential elections widely considered fraudulent. Mr. Conte won over 95 per cent of vote.
The opposition in Guinea has been decimated though harassment by the government, financial woes and inability to mount an effective national and united campaign to challenge President Conte. The resultant is the slow demise and steady deterioration of social and political institutions in that country.
The fear in Guinea is how the vacuum of state power will be filled upon the demise of President Conte at some point.
In Liberia, diplomatic and human rights sources are already grumbling about the “no show” of the opposition since the inauguration of the Ellen Johnson Administration. It appears, due to high poverty level, most opposition politicians would rather hustle for a government job under the guise of the “need for an inclusive” government rather than fulfill their obligation of representing and projecting the views and interests of the minority who hold a different view for an effective democracy. The age old argument of some of these opposition politicians is “I have to eat before I talk politics.”
Recently in South Africa, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) swept local polls as a result of a weak and non credible opposition’s failure to capitalize on the Thabo Mbeki government’s failure to address glaring poverty conditions affecting about 23million South Africans, a 26 percent unemployment rate and bitter infighting in the ANC.
AN EFFECTIVE OPPOSITION ROAD-MAP
Opposition political parties in most African countries must first identify their rights as guaranteed in the national constitution and vigorously exercise those rights.
A credible opposition in Africa today must demonstrate that it is viable, credible and, above all, can focus on maintaining a national presence rather than ethic loyalties. They must see themselves as a government-in-waiting and fully capable of participating in the national life of the nation and not merely a party out of power and based in the capital. Its own philosophy and ideology must appeal to the largest and ethnically blind populace as possible to merit any relevance.
The opposition must also work diligently to attract the best minds locally that can research, develop and apply political, social, fiscal and economic alternatives to national issues for the general good of the nation.
Another ideal is the formation of a united opposition climate such as building alliances and constituency building capacity in an effort to yield a credible representation in elections. Long term planning for political maturity and ultimate governance is not a luxury either.
And so in an effort to break the cycle of contributing to one party state, dictatorship and failed nations, the African opposition must transcend “protest politics” and elect a path to national relevance.